depart Malinka after despairing of the archbishop's justice regarding Yulian the Stablemaster or Zbigniev the Miller. Fedor is able to convince his horse to carry his lupine companion, and the two of them are able to reach Vladykino after a day's ride, in half the time of their companions. They locate Yuri
in what's left of his yard in the village, searching for horseshoes and any savings his family left behind (as it turns out, he locates a clay jar stuffed with pulo, kopecks, and a piece of silver jewelry hastily buried underneath his stoop). Meanwhile, Alden and Fedor become acquainted with the giant man - Bjorg
, whom they heard about back in Malinka.
Shortly thereafter, Kesha returns with Lokan
, who is driving two pigs from the mill before him. Alden takes initiative, slaughters one of the pigs, and stays up all night to roast it. Parts of the pig are undercooked, and parts - charred, the following morning, so the group sticks around in the burned-down village for an extra day to allow the pig to finish cooking, and for Alden - to catch up on sleep.
The following morning, Fedor, Alden, Yuri and Lokan depart, with the understanding that Kesha and Bjorg will follow, once Kesha's business in Vladykino is concluded, and once they are done roasting the second pig (Bjorg eats for four). The away group has four people riding two horses, which still allows them to cover significant distance, despite the brief shower on the first day. The second day the weather worsens. A prolonged shower dampens spirits, and Vera has more problems with her shoes. This time, Yuri is ready with backups, but as he pounds in a new horseshoe, the party is surrounded by a group of six scruffy people, who invite them to sit around their fire. To Yuri and others, they look like they could be displaced peasants or bandits, but Lokan recognizes them as the people who had told him about the raid, the mill, and the miller on his way north.
After grudgingly following the scruffy people the party is led to a makeshift camp deeper in the woods, and the two groups proceed to exchange information. After Yuri briefly recounts their travels, and says they are following the Kochmaki to try to redeem his family, a man who calls himself Nikolai says they probably won't catch them. The Kochmaki passed here over a week ago, and are probably approaching the city of Udyn, which is a major slave mart. The slaves are usually housed on an island in the Udena River before they are sold, sometimes to city notables or the household of the local amir, sometimes down the river to Atavask, at the steppe's edge, where they are exchanged for horses. Yuri thanks Nikolai for the information and attempts to leave, but Nikolai acts a little offended in the party's refusal to reciprocate and to accept his hospitality. In response to his pressing, Yuri and Fedor tell him about the mill and its special properties, the dark magic of its operator, and the fact that he is now being held in Malinka. They have no explanation for why the Kochmaki left the mill intact, except to speculate that Zbigniev was somehow in cahoots with them. Yuri then begs off, using the fact that they have no time to lose in following the raiders as an excuse. Having received their information, the woodsmen allow them to go.
Toward the end of the day, the group reaches the low bluff where Yuri had ridden to on his previous foray (before four Kochmaki chased him away). The campsite is abandoned, though evidence of the raiders' passage is still present. Searching through the debris and the undergrowth, Lokan manages to find a curved dagger, which he keeps. That night, a luminous, white-clad woman emerges from the woods, and singing haunting melodies, advances toward the clearing. Quickly gathering their things, the party flees into the woods - they can only imagine what sort of woman would be walking through here at this time of day, and Noya - Kupalo, one of the most magical days in the Noriki calendar, is only a few days away.
The following day is also overcast and wet. The party decides to follow a stream in hopes of making the best time possible. Since the pig has now been largely eaten, Alden is sent ahead to find some game. On his own, he quickly picks up the scent of an herbivore, but it turns out to be cows, not wild animals. Alden decides to take a risk, and discovers a small wooden tower surrounded by a compound on the banks of the stream. Inside, he spies a single person chopping wood, and apparently conversing with some barnyard animals. Deciding that the needs of the party outweigh the needs of the owner, and not having anyone to stop him, he changes into a wolfman, and rushes the main inside, taking him by surprise, cutting into him with his scythe, and then biting through his throat. As the man bleeds out, Alden succumbs to bloodlust, and devours much of the poor man. He then looks in the barn, and finds, to his disappointment, that there were only two cows (and two goats). The goats flee, while Alden takes one of the cows, and leads it back toward the party.
Alden's companions are rather shocked to see him bringing a cow rather than a deer, and even more shocked to see him drenched in blood. They demand to know what happened. At first, Alden tells them that he took the cow from some peasants, and ate a goat while in the village. In response to pressing - how many people saw him? - he finally admits that he killed a man, but blames him for resisting. Yuri answers that resisting an attack on himself and his property does not make the other man guilty, and wonders aloud whether he is able to travel with Alden anymore. Then, Alden justifies his actions by saying that he was looking out for the needs of his companions, who must have something to eat while they pursue the Kochmaki. After Yuri states his dislike for the raiders does not justify wanton murder - and eating! - of people, Alden responds by saying that he was recently enslaved, while his kind have been dealt a bad hand, and are often unjustly treated, and this makes him lash out in ways that he can't control. The Yuri and Fedor shake their heads, but there is nothing to it, the deed is done, and they must continue on their mission (along with their new cow). But they make Alden swear to never do something like this again.
The party camps further downstream at the end of an exhausting day. Just before dawn, the white woman appears again. This time, she moves purposefully toward Lokan, who is on watch, and while he is waking his companions, demands to know who killed her husband. Lokan tries to resist, but the woman dominates the rest of the group into submission, and quickly learns the answer to her question. She instructs Alden to accompany her, and leads him into the stream, where she proceeds to try to drown him, and bites him twice in the neck, causing him to weaken. Lokan tries to throw his companion a rope, to no avail, while Yuri, thinking that she is in trouble, attempts to help her by trying to pull her out of the stream. None of the party's interventions appear to work, and Fedor starts repeating the man's wife is a rusalka, and that Alden is a goner. Finally, Lokan breaks out the whip, and connects with the woman, which gives Alden a chance to break free, and flee to the other bank of the stream. Exasperated, the woman announces that Alden is to be a curse to his companions, breaks off, and swims quickly down the stream.
- A clay jar of silver and copper coins
- A cow is taken for later sale
- A vengeful rusalka is kept from killing a party member
Character(s) interacted with